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Closing Time: Orioles 9, Red Sox 1

09.21.10 at 10:41 pm ET
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Maybe Clay Buchholz should sue for non-support and file a worker’s comp claim. Maybe then he’d have a shot at a 20-win season like teammate Jon Lester.

On June 26, Buchholz strained his left hamstring and missed three weeks of action. Still, in 26 starts this season, he posted 16 wins and an ERA of 2.48, second only to Felix Hernandez in the American League. But on Tuesday, we were reminded that Buchholz can’t help himself with the bat and he doesn’t play second base.

The Red Sox managed just one run off Baltimore righty Brad Bergesen, who came in with a 7-10 record and a 5.03 ERA. Then in the sixth inning, just one strike away from leaving with a 1-0 lead, Marco Scutaro dropped the third out, allowing the Orioles to tie the game.

Tuesday night was just another frustrating example of why managers and baseball people are always saying never judge a pitcher solely by his win total.

Buchholz actually LOWERED his ERA from 2.48 to 2.40 but watched as his teammates couldn’t manage more than one run against Brad Bergesen and lost 9-1 at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox saw their tragic number lowered to six. Any combination of Red Sox losses and Tampa Bay wins equalling six will keep Boston at home come playoffs for the first time since 2006 and for just the second time since 2002.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX:

Marco Scutaro couldn’t read the tricky wind at 2nd. The veteran infielder must’ve felt like he was back in Oakland with the strange winds that were blowing around Fenway on Tuesday night. With a 3-2 count on Felix Pie and Buchholz just one strike away from heading to the bottom of the sixth, Pie popped up to short right field. Scutaro appeared to have a bead on it but then the ball seemed to drift back and Scutaro was late in making the adjustment. The ball clanged off his glove and onto the grass, allowing Adam Jones, who was going on the pitch, to score all the way from first and tie the game.

Scott Atchison put fuel on the fire. It’s a rule of thumb to expect a first-pitch fastball immediately after a visit by the pitching coach. Well Atchison mixed it up with Ty Wigginton by throwing him a first-pitch cutter at 85 MPH that didn’t do much more than spin. Wigginton wrapped it around the Pesky Pole in right for a three-run homer and a 4-1 Orioles’ lead in the seventh.

Nothing doing in Red Sox order. The top five batters in the order – Scutaro, Drew, Martinez, Ortiz and Beltre – went a collective 2-for-21, including key failures with men on base. And there was none bigger than the strike out taking by David Ortiz against lefty Michael Gonzalez as Buck Showalter managed the seventh inning like a man who wanted to show his team that he has no intention of suffering through a 90-loss in 2011.

Jonathan Papelbon had to get work in sometime. Too bad it was Tuesday night. The Orioles lit up the closer who hadn’t pitched since Sept. 14 at Seattle. Papelbon allowed four runs on five hits and now has an unseemly 3.92 ERA for a closer.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX:

Clay Buchholz pitched like a Cy Young candidate. Obviously, Buchholz will not win the Cy Young vote with names like C.C. Sabathia and Felix Hernandez likely to garner most of the first-place votes. He allowed just four hits and one unearned run over six innings, walking three and striking out five. Until the wheels fell off with the Scutaro error, he figured to be the main storyline. He instead became a lonely afterthought.

Read More: Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Brad Bergesen

Adrian Beltre: ‘I hope I don’t have to use [option]‘

09.21.10 at 6:46 am ET
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Speaking before the Red Sox’ 4-2 loss to the Orioles Monday night at Fenway Park, Adrian Beltre said that he isn’t concerned about reaching the 640 plate appearances that will automatically make his $5 million player option for 2011 jump to $10 million because he doesn’t believe it will come into play. “It doesn’t matter,” said Beltre, who finished Monday with 603 plate appearances with 12 games to play. “I hope I don’t have to use it.”

Beltre has reached 640 plate appearances three times in his career, having last reached the milestone in 2006 when he totaled 681. He missed the mark by one PA in ’07, and finished with 599 last season.

“That number was set because I had done it before. I had been close to that number for a lot of years. Since the season started I never thought about numbers. I never really thought about it,” he said. “It shows I wasn’t hurt, which was one of the things I wanted to do. Hurt is one thing, but to have soreness and nagging things are another. For me being hurt is having surgery. I’ve been lucky enough that the injuries I’ve had haven’t stopped me from swinging the bat or anything like that.”

Beltre said that his latest ailment — a sprained left wrist suffered when diving for a ball Saturday night — was among the most frightening of the season in terms of threatening to make him miss time. He explained that the only other time throughout the 2011 campaign there was some doubt came when he pulled his hamstring in July.

“That thing the other day was the scariest because I thought I broke my wrist,” Beltre said. “I thought I saw the bone coming out.”

Beltre was back in the Red Sox’ lineup Monday night, going 0-for-3. He is now hitting .327 with 30 home runs and an OPS of .941.

For more Red Sox coverage see the team page at weei.com/redsox.

A Bard’s lament

09.21.10 at 12:46 am ET
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Daniel Bard

It is a commentary on how good Daniel Bard has been that his failure to escape nearly impossible circumstances inspired questions about whether anything was wrong.

Bard was entrusted with a formidable task in his team’s eventual 4-2 loss to the Orioles on Monday. Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka carried a 2-2 tie game into the seventh inning but then faltered, issuing a one-out walk to Brian Roberts followed by a double to the opposite field by Nick Markakis.

That put runners on second and third with one out. With the Sox needing a strikeout to keep the game in check, the call went out for Bard, the flame thrower who has punched out 68 in 69 1/3 innings this year. Bard jumped ahead of Ty Wigginton, getting him to foul off a pair of sliders that created an 0-2 count. But Bard could not put Wigginton away, as the Orioles first baseman battled back to 3-2 before delivering a sac fly on a slider that gave the Orioles a 3-2 lead.

The development was somewhat startling, as Bard borders on unhittable when jumping ahead to an 0-2 count. Prior to Monday, he had reached 0-2 counts on 50 occasions, with opponents hitting .063/.080/.063/.143 with 31 strikeouts. He admitted that, yes, in that situation, he was looking to punch out the right-handed Wigginton on a slider, and so his inability to do so was disappointing.

Bard then got ahead of Luke Scott, working his way to a 1-2 count, but he again left a slider up — this time on a 2-2 count — that Scott yanked through the right side of the infield for another run.

“If you get to 0-2, 1-2, I don’t want to settle for anything less than a strikeout there,” said Bard. “Striking people out is kind of an art. It’s all about executing pitches when it matters. I’ve been able to do it at times, a lot of times this year, but lately it’s been tougher putting guys away. It’s all about executing off-speed pitches.”

Bard has been having some difficulties with inherited runners in recent weeks. Since Aug. 13, he has inherited a total of five runners. He has now let all five of them cross the plate. Even though he has a 1.59 ERA in 15 appearances in that time, the right-hander — who had not pitched since Sept. 14 — Bard was asked whether he was “running on empty.”

The question elicited a chuckle from the reliever, whose fastball was clocked at its usual 98-99 mph on Monday.

“Does it look like it?” Bard mused. “No. I feel good. I really do. Physically I felt great. If anything, I had maybe about a five-day layoff. Wasn’t as sharp with the off-speed stuff as far as location. Just wasn’t able to bury the breaking ball or the changeup for a strikeout. That was the only difference. I felt great out there.”

Read More: Daniel Bard,

Closing Time: Orioles 4, Red Sox 2

09.20.10 at 8:37 pm ET
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Daisuke Matsuzaka did not pitch badly. Aided in part by favorable wind conditions that kept a few long fly balls in the park, the Red Sox starter kept his team very much in the game, and was still on the mound in the seventh, negotiating a 2-2 lead against the Orioles.

But he left after putting runners on second and third with one out, and when both inherited runners crossed the plate, Matsuzaka added another page to an increasingly dismal stretch. He has now allowed four or more earned runs in seven straight starts, the longest such streak by a Sox starter since Dick Newsome went nine straight starts in 1942 and ’43, and the longest by a Sox starter in a single season since both Danny MacFayden (9) and Jack Russell (7) did the deed in 1930.

That yield was enough to confer a defeat upon Matsuzaka and the Red Sox, who lost, 4-2, to the Orioles.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–Matsuzaka allowed just six hits in his 6 1/3 innings, but he also allowed five walks. It was the third straight outing in which he’s issues at least four free passes. He is now tied for third in the majors for the most games of four or more walks this year.

Daniel Bard has now allowed five straight inherited runners to score after he entered in the seventh inning on Monday and permitted the two Orioles who were on base to cross the plate. For the year, he has allowed 32.6 percent of inherited runners to score, slightly worse than the league average of 31 percent.

Mike Lowell continued his struggle through the final weeks of his career. He went 0-for-3 (with a walk) and stranded four baserunners. He is now hitting .189 with a .466 OPS in September.

–Orioles starter Brian Matusz added to his credentials as a Red Sox nemesis. Though the Sox elevated his pitch count to knock him out of the game after five innings, he allowed just one run on three hits in that time. In five starts against the Sox this year, the Baltimore rookie was 2-0 with a 2.43 ERA, including 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA in three starts at Fenway.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–The Sox received excellent defense in the two corner outfield positions. Bill Hall showed off a rocket arm in left field, gunning down Brian Roberts at home to end the third inning, and then cutting down Felix Pie at third in the fourth. Darnell McDonald also helped the Sox to avoid significant damage by running down a pair of deep drives in the right field corner.

–Hall drove in his second run in the month of September, lining a game-tying single to right in the sixth inning. However, he did also strike out a pair of times, giving him 32 multi-strikeout games this year, second most on the Red Sox, bringing his total to 97 strikeouts for the year.

Victor Martinez continued his assault on left-handed pitchers, going 2-for-3 while Matusz was on the hill. He is now hitting .399 with a 1.180 OPS against southpaws, and he has 36 RBI (in 143 at-bats) against lefties, compared to 37 (in 312 at-bats) against right-handers.

Hideki Okajima blazed through a 1-2-3 eighth inning. He’s now thrown 9 1/3 scoreless innings over his last 11 outings.

Michael Bowden sruck out three batters in an inning of work.

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Orioles, victor martinez,

Nuggetpalooza Looks At Ryan Kalish

09.20.10 at 1:37 pm ET
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Here we are in mid-September and the Red Sox find themselves in the unfamiliar position of just playing out the schedule.

But I’m not here to dwell on that. This week, let’s look at the trio of outfielders that the Red Sox have broken into their lineup during the second half of the year. Today, we’ll rev up the Nuggetpalooza microscope to examine Ryan Kalish:

So far, Kalish has appeared in 42 games since his promotion on July 31 and has put up a slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS) of 238/275/608/483 in 139 plate appearances.

Kalish had one stretch of four games in mid-August in which he went 0-11, otherwise, he has not gone more than two appearances without a hit. He does have a 32-7 strikeout to walk ratio, which is a concern, including a 6-0 ratio over his last 10 games, spanning 37 plate appearances.

Let’s look a little deeper into his splits:

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* – Kalish has 14 RBI in September, which ranks him in a tie for 3rd in the AL in that span:

19 – Shin-Soo Choo, CLE
18 – Victor Martinez, BOS
14 – Ryan Kalish, BOS
14 – Alex Rodriguez, NYY
13 – David Ortiz, BOS

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* – Kalish has a quite strong .907 OPS with runners in scoring position, so he’s been, let’s just say, “clutchy” so far.

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* – Looking at different pitch counts, Kalish has either gotten ahead 1-0 or put the first pitch in play 51% of the time, which is not great but not terrible (J.D. Drew’s career percentage is 59%; Jacoby Ellsbury’s is 51%).

However, when Kalish has fallen behind 0-1, he’s eventually struck out in 24 of 68 plate appearances (35%), the 25th highest percentage in the AL (min. 60 such PA).

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* – Kalish has put 99 balls in play (not including 1 bunt), and 18% have been line drives. That would be a nice carryover from his 2010 minor league line drive rate of 19.7% (after a poor 14.8% in 2009).

One more note about his minor league LD%: In 2010, those rates were similar versus lefties and righties. But in 2009, he was much BETTER against lefties (17%) than against righties (13%).

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* – It’s a small sample, but Kalish is already showing signs of improvement in his plate discipline. In August, Kalish swung at 24% of pitches recorded as outside the strike zone. In September, just 20%.

What’s more, his contact rate on those “outside the zone” swings was just 49% in August (awful), but is 70% in September (about the same as the full season rates for Derek Jeter, Hanley Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero).

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* – As far as how he’s handled different pitches (per Fangraphs’ runs created above or below average), he’s actually gotten slightly worse against the fastball (-0.4 per 100 pitches in August and -1.1 in September), which he saw 63% of the time in August vs 61% in September.

He hasn’t seen as many changeups in September (7.7% vs 11.3% in August) because he’s been much better against them (-0.6 in August and +4.2 in September).

When Kalish has seen breaking balls (25% in August and 31% in September) he’s been -1.3 in August and and much better +0.8 in September.

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* – One other thing I wanted to examine is how Kalish is faring against high quality pitchers. Let’s see what Kalish’s slash line is against these groups of pitchers:

“Good Pitchers” – ERA Under 3.50 in 2010: 310/355/483/838 in 32 plate appearances (1 HR).

“Fireballers” – Strikeouts of 23% of batters faced: 240/296/440/736 in 28 plate appearances (1 HR; 8 K).

“Good Junkballers” – Value of Non-Fastballs is 8+ runs above average (per Fangraphs): 206/270/353/623 in 38 PA (1 HR; 10 K).

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Next time, we’ll take a similar peek at Daniel Nava.

Beltre’s (meaningless) option could hinge on wrist

09.20.10 at 2:18 am ET
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Adrian Beltre

Under other circumstances, the results of the exam on Adrian Beltre‘s sore left wrist could have had significant implications for the Red Sox.

That possibility would have had less to do with the impact that the third baseman has had on his club this year — and make no mistake, Beltre has been a force, leading his club in games played (144), batting average (.329), slugging (.571) and RBI (98) while ranking second in OBP (.374) and homers (28) — and more to do with his 2011 cost.

Beltre, after all, could see the value of his player option for the 2011 season increase from $5 million to $10 million with 640 plate appearances this year. He currently sits at 599 plate appearances, and so, if he misses anything more than a few of his club’s 13 remaining games, it would jeopardize the value of his 2011 option.

Of course, such a possibility appears to have nothing more than theoretical significance. First and foremost, manager Terry Francona declared that the third baseman received “a clean bill of health” after a series of tests at Mass General. So, Beltre should get enough plate appearances to double the value of his player option.

That said, in the process of accumulating all those at-bats — and performing as one of the top players in the American League — Beltre has virtually assured that he has no reason to exercise his player option. Coming off the worst season of his career in 2009, the third baseman received a one-year, $9 million deal. He is now going to be heading back into free agency after the second-best season of his career; he is certain to receive multi-year offers in excess of $10 million a year.

Thus, the only real question becomes whether or not the increased value of the player option would have luxury tax implications for the Red Sox in either 2010 or 2011. Answer: No.

The Sox structured their deal with Beltre and agent Scott Boras – a one-year, $9 million guarantee that included a $1 million buyout that was triggered when the All-Star reached 575 plate appearances on Sept. 12 and a $5 million player option for 2011 — so that it would be calculated as a $7 million deal for luxury tax purposes. (The deal is viewed as a two-year, $14 million guarantee for CBT purposes.)

If (and, almost certainly, when) Beltre declines his player option, the difference between what the Sox actually have paid him and what they were charged for CBT purposes will be assessed against their 2011 luxury tax payroll. So, assuming that he declines his option, the Sox will have $3 million — the difference between the $7 million CBT assessment for this season and the additional $2 million in salary he received this year, along with the $1 million conditional buyout that was triggered — assessed on their 2011 payroll for luxury tax purposes.

Assuming that Beltre declines his player option — whether for $5 million or $10 million — that $3 million assessment for 2011 won’t change. Nor will it alter the $7 million CBT calculation for 2010.

If Beltre were to exercise a $10 million player option for 2011, however, then the Sox would be on the hook for a $13 million luxury tax calculation for his contract next year, as the final amount charged must equal the actual amount paid. So, if he exercises a $10 million player option, the Sox would have paid a total of $20 million (the $9 million 2010 salary, the $1 million buyout, and the $10 million player option) over the two years, resulting in the $13 million assessment.

But, that hypothetical scenario will be rendered moot if/when Beltre declines the player option. And so, the state of his wrist over the final two weeks of the season will have no actual implications for his deal with the Sox.

Read More: Adrian Beltre, cbt, Contract,

Beltre should be back Monday

09.19.10 at 6:48 pm ET
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The Red Sox and Adrian Beltre got some good news before Sunday’s game.

The left wrist injury to the star third baseman and likely 2010 Red Sox team MVP is not that serious.

As a result, Beltre will likely return to the Red Sox lineup on Monday night in the opener of a three-game series against the Orioles after getting a clean bill of health on his left wrist, injured in Saturday night’s loss to the Blue Jays.

“He was checked out over at Mass General,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said following Sunday’s 6-0 win. “He got an MRI, a CT scan, x-rays. He got a clean bill of health and he’ll probably play [Monday].”

Francona didn’t make out the lineup card until an hour before Sunday’s game to keep open the possibility of playing the third baseman who entered Sunday with 28 homers and 98 RBIs and a team-leading .329 average. Beltre was eventually held out in favor of rookie Yamaico Navarro, who made his first career big league start at third base.

Speaking of Navarro, he looked very, very comfortable at third on Sunday, especially when the pressure was on. In the fifth inning, with the bases loaded and one out, he fielded a grounder from Yunel Escobar and fired to Victor Martinez at the plate to force the runner for the second out. Then with the majors leading home run hitter at the plate, he fielded a grounder off Jose Bautista‘s bat and stepped on the third base bag to end the threat as the Red Sox and Jon Lester cruised to victory.

Read More: Adrian Beltre, Boston Red Sox, Jose Bautista, MLB
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